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At last weeks local authority settlement, it was made clear that, yet again, southern council tax payers will be subsidising the northern councils. Are
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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I ought to feel somewhat aggrieved as my 12-minute contribution has been reduced to six, which leaves me less time than I would have wanted to congratulate all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate.
I recall when the bid was going forward for Liverpool as the city of culture. Nearly all noble Lords who have spoken this evening spoke on that occasion with great effect. It is sometimes suggested that this House is not listened to outside as much as it might be, but on that occasion we were able to demonstrate a unity of purpose. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, indicated, we also associated with the other place in that endeavour. I was pleased to reply to a debate in which the enormous enthusiasm of noble Lords for the Liverpool venturea very large number of whom come from the citywas quite clear.
We are almost at the point of reaching fulfilment but challenges lie ahead. We all recognise that. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, is right to enter a note of caution. This Capital of Culture costs money and, in certain aspects, the city is facing some difficulties. I want to emphasise the significant contribution that the Government have made thus far in support of the city. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, along with other noble Lords, mentioned the refurbishment of St Georges Hall, to which the Heritage Lottery Fund made a substantial contribution. In other areas, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has been concerned to give as much support as possible for what promises to be an outstanding year.
There is no doubt already that the city can balance various elements, as the right reverend Prelate indicated that it should. It not only has high culture such as the very impressive classical music events that are being developed and the Gustav Klimt exhibition at Tate Liverpool, but it is bringing forth the energies of people. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, emphasised the role of young people. One of Liverpools great strengths is undoubtedly the extent to which its people can come together when there is a project on which they unite. This is a great opportunity.
I do not have to survey the events that have already been put in place because my noble friend Lord Harrison, who has given us this significant opportunity to discuss the subject and who introduced the debate so superbly, has already covered them. I am concerned, however, that we make this year a creative experience with a lasting legacy. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Howard, we recognise that this investment in the city must have a longer-term legacy. It is very important that we recognise the potential economic benefits to Liverpool, which are already showing, as noble Lords have said, in the increased role of tourism in the city and the number of visits in recent years. Tourism plays an important part in a local economy, and there is no doubt that the richness of Liverpools cultural heritage at this time and the refurbishment that has been
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I recognise what everyone who has spoken in the debate this evening has emphasised; this is not only about the economic legacy but about the experience of the year, as well as about peoples ability to come together. We should put a little more emphasis than we have this evening on the work that has been done to bring volunteers together to ensure that tourists enjoy the experience of the city. That is a great way of engaging young people. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, indicated other areas in which they are responding. The very strength of Liverpool in many ways is the inherent enthusiasm that people once generated. It is also true that they can put their case rather more pessimistically on occasions. We have a great opportunity for them to reap the rewards of enthusiasm. Noble Lords who have contributed to the debate have been enormously optimistic and enthusiastic about the opportunities that are provided. And so we should be. There is no doubt that there will be a great cultural legacy from this year. The accountants will scratch their heads about how the bills will be paid. I cannot tell the noble Lord, Lord Howard, that the Government will pick up the bill. The Government have a clear definition.
Lord McNally: My Lords, it would be wrong to leave the impression given by the Conservative Front Bench that Liverpool wanted to pick the pockets of southern taxpayers. Liverpool has made a number of constructive proposals, and I hope that the Government will respond constructively. That is all that is being asked.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful for that crisp intervention, because it reduces my four sentences to one with great accuracy. It was a point that I wanted to make. There is no doubt that a great deal of investment is being made, and Liverpool is playing its part and pulling its weight. I, too, emphasise the substantial role played by my department in the cultural development of Liverpool in the past few years.
This is an opportunity in which the whole nation can share. It is true that a great deal of credit will go to the people of Liverpool when this year is a great success, but it is also true that the nation will enjoy this year hugely. I have no doubt that there will be a very large number of overseas tourists. We have already seen the numbers of people who come from other parts of the United Kingdom. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, is absolutely right that Liverpool is important because of its place in the hinterland. Indeed, Liverpool offers access to both the north-west and north Wales.
I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Owen, for emphasising the role which the University of Liverpool is playing in this development. I also liked his reference
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I appreciate that, this evening, we have seen a most constructive, optimistic and enthusiastic presentation of the case for Liverpool. That is the way in which it will be the Capital of Culture, and the way the whole nation will rejoice in its success.
The noble Earl said: We move now to an issue that the Joint Committee on the draft Bill considered in some depth, but did not resolvewhether the birth certificate of a person who is donor conceived should have that fact recorded on it. This is an extremely difficult and sensitive matter, as the Joint Committee itself recognised; it is not straightforward.
Some argue forcefully that families with donor-conceived children should be free to manage for themselves the whole business of whether and how to tell a child of his genetic origins, and that the state should not take action to, effectively, force the hand of such parents to convey this information to children. Many feel that it is for the parents to judge if and when it is in the interests of a child to be told at all. I completely see the force of this argument. As a rule, I am very much against the idea of the state stepping in and interfering in family life more than is absolutely necessary.
However, I believe very firmly that birth certificates should carry this information, and I will explain why. My starting point is that I believe it to be in the best interests of every donor-conceived child to be told of their donor conception, preferably at an early age. The weight of evidence presented to the Joint Committee demonstrated that clearly. The fundamental issue underlying it concerns human rights. One of the main reasons why, some three years ago, we decided to lift donor anonymity in this country was the recognition, at European level, that every child has the right to know or to find out who his or her parents are. The rights of donor-conceived children were, for many years, being breached by their having no opportunity,
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The regulations and this Bill give children a right to inquire, and the right to be told certain information in response to such an inquiry. Nowhere is it laid down that parents should have a legal duty to tell the child in the first place that they are donor conceived. It is therefore possibleand, I am sorry to say, all too commonfor donor-conceived children never to be given that information. If they somehow find out by accident, the emotional impact of such a discovery can be devastating. I read a number of personal accounts written by individuals who found out, sometimes quite late in life, that they were donor conceived, and whose anger and resentment at having been kept in ignorance are of life-changing magnitude.
She went on to describe the almost frantic process of searching for her true father, and her burning need to find out who and what sort of a man he was. But what comes out from peoples testimonials even more forcefully than their anger is a feeling of injustice at the withholding of a basic truth. For the birth certificate of a donor-conceived person to omit any mention of the donor conception is equivalent to the state being complicit in a lie. For me, that simply is not on.
The truth may be difficult to confront and may cause pain, but we should not withhold it. A persons sense of identity is bound up in very large measure with their personal history and a knowledge of where they came from. A birth certificate that omits any mention of donor conception falsifies that history in a profound way. If it is true, as I understand it is, that many donor-conceived children are kept in ignorance of their true origins, something needs to be done. I do not believe that it would be acceptable or right to place a legal duty on parents to tell children about the circumstances of their birth. However, we can give parents the strongest possible motivation for finding an appropriate way of letting a child know before he finds out for himself. We should also see to it that in situations where the parents die before they have an opportunity to tell the child, there is a back-up mechanism that is reasonably failsafe.
Although I believe that we need to confront the issues of principle, there is a practical issue which equally cannot be dodged. It may be argued that where a donor-conceived person is aware of his or her birth status, he or she may not wish to declare that fact to the outside world and, for that reason, may be embarrassed at having to reveal through their birth certificate the fact that they are donor conceived; for example, when opening a bank account or having to prove their identity in other contexts. The answer to that should not be beyond the wit of man to provide.
One answer may be suggested by the fact that when a child is born the parents are given not one but two birth certificates. One certificate could be in a shortened
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In the amendment, I propose that the precise details of how this should work should be left to regulations. It seems important that the detail is right and that the Government should consult with interested parties before finalising them. I very much hope that the Minister will agree to take this issue away with her and consider it constructively. I beg to move.
Baroness Warnock: I strongly agree with the noble Earl, Lord Howe. I shall speak briefly on the amendment to which I have added my name. As a matter of principle, it seems to me profoundly immoral to bring a child up without his knowing something fundamental to his well-being. It is a sign of a kind of pettiness on the part of the parents to share a secret that they are not prepared to share with their child. In fact, it is almost impossible that a child should not learn, even if he does not know quite what he has learnt, that something is being concealed from him. That is no way to bring up a childamong hidden secrets, about which he is not allowed to know.
I know a father who is not the biological father of his son and who agreed with his wife that they would not tell the son until he was 14 years old. When the day came that they decided that they would tell him about his real, biological origins, the son was quite relaxed about it and said, Oh well, I always knew there was something funny going on, but I thought it was Mum. The father then said to me what an enormous weight off his mind that was. He had hated those 14 years in which he knew that he was deceiving his child, with whom he got on extremely well. He hated the fact that there was something he could not talk about.
From that point of view, it simply should not go on. I agree that it should be impossible to compel parents by law to reveal the truth to their child, but now it is much easier to do so than it used to be, when the thought of male infertility was a kind of insultsomething to be tremendously ashamed ofthat nobody was allowed or liked to admit. Now the notion of infertility is not thought to be essentially female and is recognised as a dysfunction that could happen to anybody, so there is no point in concealment
There are other factors of genetic inheritance that the child may have to know one day, such as if his biological father develops a genetic condition that may be passed on. There is every reason to make it desirable, natural and normal that the child should know. How that should be done we could discuss later, but I express my profound agreement with the noble Earl.
Baroness Barker: Before I turn to the details of Amendment No. 68B, which stands in my name, I want to make an observation that has been with me all
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To do that, I wish to give some information to the Committee that it may find helpful. The HFEAs code of practice sets out guidance for clinics where it becomes known that a gamete donor has subsequently developed a genetic condition or is the carrier of a recessively inherited condition. When a centre knows that, it is told that it should supply that information to the HFEA immediately. Similarly, where a child born of donor conception develops a genetic condition, the centre is under the same obligation to send that information to the HFEA. Noble Lords will ask whether there is a process by which that information is passed on to the other part of the chain. To my understanding, the answer is no. That may be unsatisfactory, but it is a parallel to the situation that exists with adoption. Noble Lords might recall, from when we debated what is now the Adoption and Children Act 2002, the case of a birth mother who had relinquished a baby prior to 1974 and wished to pass that information on to an adult and could not because, in adoption law, children become part of a different family. While the possibility of voluntary transmission of information exists and could be encouraged, it is not possible to do it by an official process.
I turn to the question of birth certificates. I have been struck, in conversations I have had over the past three or four weeks with all sorts of people, by the enormous sensitivity around these issues. On the one hand, it is understandable that one would wish to record truth and to pass it on between generations. Equally, it must be admitted that doing so via the birth certificate is clumsy. Birth certificates are public documentsthey are matters of public recordand the proposal would pass on what can be intensely private and personal information.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, referred to short birth certificates. Standard practice is that people can have a short birth certificate, which contains a few details, but everyone also has a long birth certificate, from which more detailed information can be obtained. For example, people who are adopted usually have the fact of their adoption registered on their long birth certificate but, until recently, most people have used short birth certificates on the various occasions when one must produce a certificate. The problem is that these days, when times are changingfor example, we live under threats of terrorism, and questions about identity are becoming more and more importantshort birth certificates are not being used as much; or, rather, officials increasingly ask for long birth certificates, which creates a problem.
This is a difficult matter. The Joint Committee struggled with it. On page 73 of its report, it sets out that we have the right to know versus the right to privacy. It is not possible to balance those two conflicting things. The Joint Committee asked that there should be further debate on the matter. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, was right when he said that this should not be
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I want to make clear exactly what I intend. The amendment is only for discussion at this point. I am not wedded to it; I simply seek further views on this matter. The proposal is that on a birth certificate, there should be a symbolI have not specified what that should be; armies of civil servants will no doubt have endless fun determining thatthat means that there has been no donor conception. I should make it clearthis is not in my amendmentthat my intention is that the legend should not be on the birth certificate; it should be held elsewhere. By that, I mean that it would be generally knownfor example, GRO publications might say what the symbol means. That is one more attempt to try to build in a degree of protection and privacy. One would have a birth certificate on which it was noted that a persons birth was registered and that, at the time when it was registered, it was noted that it was as a result of donor conception.
Like the noble Earl, Lord Howe, I was greatly influenced by the many discussions we had during the passage of the Adoption and Children Bill about how and when parents should tell children the truth about their origins. Noble Lords might be interested to know that Professor Golombok, whose work was referred to earlier, is a strong advocate of telling children as soon as possible that they have been donor conceived. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, is right that attitudes are changing greatly toward gay parents and different types of families. Yet the decision about how and when to tell a child remains an intensely personal one, which each family has to manage individually.
I do not wish our deliberations to end up with a system that meets all the public-policy aspirations that can be thought of yet simply does not work for families. I caution against us becoming too fixated on registering a birth, at the expense of making those parents who have chosen to go down that route feel in some way compromised about their ability to build a family with their child.
If any Member of the Committee could find a way in which this intensely personal and private information could be communicated directly, and only, to the person to whom it had most meaning, I would be delighted to consider it. I have not been able to think of anything so Amendment No. 68A, which is before the Committee, is a compromise. I accept that it is, therefore, highly likely to satisfy nobody. It is simply an effort to move us that one step forward, away from theory and into something practical with which families can live.
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